In a video that has been circulating on social media, former president Thabo Mbeki relates an interesting story about a meeting, organised by the Communist Party of China in Beijing, he had attended to discuss corruption within governing parties and its impact on economic growth and governance.
Instead of discussing corruption within their own parties, he relates, Africans were only commenting on others.
Perhaps, the ANC must organise a similar meeting to discuss how corruption has not only tarnished its brand, but also distracted its pursuit of National Democratic Revolution (NDR) objectives, especially in relation to an economic transformation over a quarter-century into a democratic order.
In particular, the meeting must look at what causes corruption within the party, when the party lost a fight against corruption, and how the party can rid itself of corruption.
In doing so, the ANC must solicit an external input in that, contrary to conventional wisdom, it cannot self-correct, not by a long shot. Irrespective of a form in which it manifests itself, corruption within Africa’s oldest liberation movement predates its ascension to power in 1994.
The democratic order, therefore, opened the floodgates for many among its members to gain access to state resources for self-enrichment, culminating in what has been described as state capture.
In all fairness to the ANC, it has established several public institutions, such as the auditor-general and the public protector, and enacted laws and regulations, such as Executive Members Ethics Act and Municipal Finance Management Act, to prevent corruption.
However, they are not deterrent mechanisms within the party. In 2005, after a court of law had found his former financial adviser and businessman Schabir Shaik guilty of corruption and fraud, Mbeki fired Jacob Zuma as South African deputy president.
Although Shaik was not trialled along with Zuma, a picture that had emerged during his trial painted a corrupt relationship between them, thus, as Mbeki put it, “raising questions of conduct that would be inconsistent with expectations that attend those who hold public office”.
By firing his deputy, probably the most difficult decision he had to take if both his political report at a 52nd National Conference and resignation speech as South African president are anything to go by, Mbeki tried to instil moral leadership.
Instead of supporting him to rid the party of corruption, some party members, such as secretary-general and former Free State premier Ace Magashule and SACP secretary-general Blade Nzimande, whom he had overlooked for office payoffs, rallied behind Zuma for an ANC presidency and that of the country, despite that he faced 783 charges.
It is at this point when the ANC lost the fight against corruption. The loss reached a point of no return at the 52nd National Conference when Zuma got the better of Mbeki, who had vied for a third term as ANC president.
Towards the conference, where the ANC resolved to disband the Scorpions, a crime-busting directorate with which the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) had a high prosecutorial success rate, KwaZulu-Natal campaigned for Revolutionary Morality and Ethics of the ANC and RDP of the Soul to be removed from the policy discussion documents, testified former ANC member Siyanda Mhlongo before the Moerane Commission.
The province, he said, argued that Mbeki and Joel Netshitenzhe, the ANC’s chief ideologue, had drafted them to discredit Zuma.
The first policy discussion document looked at, among other things, a relationship between the ANC and business and moral and ethical principles that must guide it to preserve the integrity of the party and its members.
RDP of the Soul, on the other hand, looked at spiritual and moral issues from a liberation struggle.
Post the conference, the ANC established a task team to ascertain whether Zuma had been involved in arms deal corruption or not.
Made up of ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa, former deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe, and national executive committee Lindiwe Sisulu to name but a few, the team made a legal presentation to the NPA to drop the charges against Zuma, so did other interest groups, including the uMkhonto weSizwe Military Veterans Association (MKMVA).
Hence, as Vusi Pikoli, a former National Director of Public Prosecutions, contends in his memoir, My Second Initiation, Mokotedi Mpshe, who had been acting while he was on a suspension, “was put under political pressure” to drop them.
A decade later, the ANC is grappling with amoral leadership, largely compromised by corruption and other self-enriching crimes. It even now toys with the suggestion to re-establish the Scorpions.
Clearly, the resolution to disband the directorate was factionally blindfolded to protect the corrupt from prosecutions.
Corruption has tarnished the brand ANC to an extent that self-respecting companies do not want to associate themselves with the liberation movement.
Hence, the party has been struggling to raise funds to run the organisation and pay employees. Given that nearly 65% of its revenue comes from funders, it cannot wage all-out campaigns and programmes of action with limited resources to increase its electoral support.
Similar to self-respecting companies, black professionals do not want to associate themselves with the ANC and its government in that it is a career risk.
Head-hunted to fill a chief executive officer vacancy at Eskom, one of the state-owned enterprises (SOEs) that has been looted of billions of rands, for example, about 27 black executives declined, thus giving rise to Andre de Ruyter’s appointment.
Take nothing away from De Ruyter, who is of European descent; he is an established executive in his own right.
It is, however, not far-fetched to assume that, following his appointment, he has not even taken the trouble to acquaint himself with the NDR objectives, so are many other executives who have been appointed in the SOEs under the auspices of untangling a web of state capture.
Adding insult to injury, the ANC cannot hold them to account at a party level for failing to pursue its policies. This brings to light the utmost importance of a cadre deployment policy.
Contrary to conventional wisdom, a problem does not necessarily lie with the policy; it lies with factionalism, which in and of itself breeds corruption.
The SOEs are the most important instruments to pursue the NDR objectives.
Therefore, they must not be surrendered to a neoliberal agenda, namely further run them down and then restart them with private investors as majority shareholders, under the auspices of fighting corruption.
At a 53rd National Conference, the ANC resolved that those “who are found guilty of (any) wrongdoing in other institutions of society should also be subjected to internal disciplinary processes in line with the ANC Code of Conduct”.
Yet its Integrity Committee (IC), which came into existence from a resolution taken at the same conference, seems to find some members guilty of corruption and other crimes before courts of law could decide to trial them.
It is given more liberty by a 54th National Conference resolution that orders “ANC leaders and members who are alleged to be involved in corrupt activities, should, where necessary step aside until their names are cleared”.
While this is a principled decision that is expected from any public officebearer, the resolution will further divide the party in that corruption in particular has now become an intraparty factional power conflict.
To rid itself of corruption, therefore, the ANC cannot opt for a self-defeating short-cut. It must opt for a set of everlasting mechanisms.
In fact, given the foregoing 54th National Conference, the question begs as to why the party deployed Bongani Bongo, Mosebenzi Zwane, and others who were already implicated in corruption and other crimes in government and legislatures before last year’s general elections and then later ordered them to step aside. The wisdom of this decision, which may be repeated post the 2021 local government election, leaves much to be desired.
If the ANC is serious about fighting corruption within its own ranks and the country as a whole, it must do two things.
First, order Ramaphosa to unseal names of his CR17 campaign funders. In fact, Ramaphosa, who rose to power on a ticket of fighting corruption, should have published a list of his funders as soon as some of them were mentioned in the media of his own volition.
In a series of surveys conducted by authors of Credibility, James Kouzes and Barry Posner, for a decade on characteristics of admired leaders, honesty consistently appeared first out of 20 attributes.
By asking a court of law to seal his funders’ names amid a state capture narrative, Ramaphosa is not honest about fighting corruption. The private funding of his campaign smacks of factional capture, which gives rise to state capture within the context of self-serving ANC factions.
It may be argued that other contestants must also reveal their funders. Besides that their funders are thus far unknown, as a popular adage goes: a fish rots from the head down.
Second, the ANC must order Zuma to subject himself to a commission of inquiry into allegations of state capture.
Typical of him to evade accountability on weighty evidence that implicates him in state capture, he has vowed not to appear before it until its chairperson, Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, whom he accuses of a “biased disposition” towards him, has recused himself.
This will set a wrong precedent, aimed at collapsing the commission, of course.
* Molifi Tshabalala is an independent political analyst.
** The views expressed here are bit necessarily those of Independent Media.